On Tuesday, November 3rd, voters in Maine passed Question 5: Citizens Initiative with 59% of the votes. This initiated bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services to issue registry identification cards to patients who qualify to possess marijuana for medical use and to their designated primary caregivers. It sets limits on the amount of marijuana that may be possessed by qualifying patients and their designated primary caregivers, allows the establishment of nonprofit dispensaries to provide marijuana to qualifying patients and directs the Department of Health and Human Services to issue a registration certificate to a nonprofit dispensary that meets certain criteria, and changes the description of the medical conditions for which the medical use of marijuana is permitted. The measure also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to establish application and renewal fees sufficient to pay the expenses of implementing and administering the provisions of the initiated bill. The new legislation repeals the state's old statutes regarding medical marijuana and replaces them with a new law, entitled the Maine Medical Marijuana Act.
The new Act expands the list of medical conditions for which marijuana may be prescribed to include cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly known as "Lou Gehrig's disease"), Crohn's disease, agitation of Alzheimer's diseases, nail-patella syndrome, and the treatment of any of these conditions; plus any chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition that causes intractable pain that has not responded to ordinary procedures for reducing pain over a period of more than six months, and any chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces severe nausea, seizures (including epileptic seizures), or severe and persistent muscle spasms, such as those associated with multiple sclerosis. The public would be able to petition the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to add other medical conditions to this list, according to rules that would be developed by DHHS.
The legislation also authorizes the establishment of not-for-profit organizations as "nonprofit dispensaries" to acquire, cultivate and distribute marijuana to qualifying patients for medical use, and to be designated as primary caregivers for such patients. Every dispensary would have to qualify and be registered with DHHS and would operate under regulations to be developed by DHHS. The regulations must include restrictions on who could serve as a board member, officer or employee of a dispensary, and restrictions on the amount of usable marijuana or marijuana plants that the dispensary could produce and distribute to patients. Any cultivation of marijuana by a dispensary would have to take place in an enclosed, locked facility. No dispensary could be located within 500 feet of the property line of a public or private school that was already in existence, and local governments would remain free to restrict the number of dispensaries within their city or town or to enact reasonable zoning regulations applicable to dispensaries.
The Maine Medical Marijuana Act provides legal protections from prosecution for primary caregivers, qualifying patients and nonprofit dispensaries operating in compliance with the law, and also includes penalties for noncompliance with the new law and rules.
For a complete reading of the new legislation and other 2009 Maine ballot measures, please visit the Maine Citizen's Guide 2009.
Other states have recently passed medical marijuana legislation as well, including:
- Rhode Island: H 5359 - A vote to override a veto of a bill that creates dispensaries called "compassion centers" to legally sell medical marijuana in the state.
- New Jersey: S 119 - A vote to pass a bill that legalizes the medicinal use of marijuana for patients that have been diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition, and establishes alternative treatment centers to handle the production, storage, and dissemination of medical marijuana.
- New Hampshire: HB 648 - A vote to pass a bill that legalizes the medicinal use of marijuana for patients that have been diagnosed by a psysician as having a debilitating medical condition beginning January 1, 2010.
- Montana: SB 326 - A vote to pass a bill that amends existing law relating to the production and use of medical marijuana.
- Minnesota: SF 97 - A vote to pass a bill that legalizes marijuana for medical use by people with certain debilitating conditions.
- Michigan: Question 1 (2008) - A legislative initiative to permit the use and cultivation of marijuana for specified medical conditions.
There are currently 13 states where medical marijuana is legal, but few provide help to patients in obtaining it.
-Stefan Johansson, Research